Groundswell partnered with WGVU and the GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute to create a series of educational videos and lesson plans about nonpoint source pollution. This type of pollution is one of the biggest threats to healthy lakes, streams, and rivers.
After you watch the above video, you can read the Background Information and complete the activities and handouts in the Student Handouts section.
When it rains or when snow melts, water runs off streets, parking lots, lawns, and agricultural fields and carries with it pollutants such as road salt, motor oil, sediment, fertilizer, bacteria, and pesticides. These pollutants are then carried, untreated, to the nearest stream or lake through surface water runoff or storm sewers; or they infiltrate into groundwater.
Nonpoint source pollution is so named because the pollutants do not originate at single point sources, such as industrial or municipal wastewater discharge pipes (point source pollution), but come from many diverse sources in the environment. While some nonpoint source pollution is naturally occurring, most of it is a result of human activities.
Sediment is the number one pollutant of our nation's waterbodies. When excessive soil enters a waterbody as a result of erosion, it prevents sunlight from reaching aquatic plants, clogs fish gills, chokes other organisms, smothers macroinvertebrates, and interferes with fish spawning. Water also becomes murky and unpleasant for swimming or fishing.
Chemical fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorous - nutrients that help plants grow. Using excessive amounts of fertilizer or applying it close to a shoreline allows the nutrients to run off. Once in the waterbody, the nutrients feed algae, causing it to grow rapidly and turn the water green or cause algal blooms. Large amounts of algae reduce oxygen levels in the water and compromise overall water quality – sometimes causing a fish kill.
Bacteria (including E. coli) in surface waters are a threat to human health. Pathogens (agents that cause disease) are a top cause of stream impairment.
Ways to Help Reduce Nonpoint Source Pollution:
If you must fertilize, use phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer and follow the directions. Avoid getting fertilizer on driveways, sidewalks, storm drains, or nearby waterbodies.
Don’t dump anything down a storm drain. It goes straight to a waterbody.
Wash your car on a grassy area, use soap (preferably non-phosphate) sparingly, or better yet – take your car to a car wash where water can be cleaned or recycled.
Make sure your car is working properly. Oil is a major pollutant from road and parking lot runoff.
Pick up after your pet. Bacteria can run off into storm drains.
Make sure there is adequate vegetation growing in erosion prone areas - especially embankments along rivers, ponds and lakes. Don’t leave soil bare and vulnerable to erosion.
Use porous materials such as wooden planks or bricks for walkways and patios. Porous surfaces allow substances to soak into the ground where they are filtered by the soil.
Maintain your septic system so it is functioning properly. A failing or improperly functioning septic system contributes bacteria and nutrients to groundwater or nearby ditches and rivers.
Get involved with watershed planning and implementation efforts in your watershed!
Source: Indiana Department of Environmental Management
The Communities for Clean Water videos and lesson plans were made possible through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. As part of this grant, the number of individuals utilizing these resources needs to be reported. Please help with this process. Click HERE to complete a brief questionnaire. Thank you- your time is appreciated!